Kissinger: Peacemaker or War Criminal? / BBC documentary presents the case against a statesman

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MOVIE REVIEW

(3 1/2 STARS) THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER (U). Relentlessly methodical

account of the war crimes currently being laid at the feet of former secretary

of state and modern Metternich Henry Kissinger. Sober, sobering, exhilarating,

revelatory. Inspired by the Christopher Hitchens book (and Harper's magazine

articles), "The Trial of Henry Kissinger." Written by Alex Gibney. Directed by

Eugene Jarecki. Narrator: Brian Cox. 1:20 (carnage). At Film Forum, 209 W.

Houston St., Manhattan.

In the face of worldwide antipathy, George W. Bush insists on invading

Iraq. The United States demands exempt status before the International Criminal

Court. Americans still stand around drop-jawed about how anti-U.S. sentiment

could have ever resulted in a Sept. 11. And along comes "The Trials of Henry

Kissinger."

How often does a movie actually mean something? Not about drama or acting

or art but about the state and the soul of the union, and whether we're a

nation that can actually learn from its past?

A piece of reportage that should profoundly depress anyone in or interested

in journalism - because the information has all been there waiting to be

collected, because corporations run news companies, because there's so much

muck and so few are raking - "The Trials of Henry Kissinger" never actually

accuses Kissinger of anything. It's far too matter-of-fact and, besides, it

really doesn't have to. Journalist Christopher Hitchens (whose writings

provoked the movie), weighs in, as do other Kissinger foes such as Seymour

Hersh, Michael Tigar and William Shawcross, but even the presumed Kissinger

supporters we see (Alexander Haig, Brent Scowcroft) can mount only a timid

defense of the Nobel laureate and uber-diplomat (Haig is reduced to calling

Hitchens someone who "sucks the sewer pipe," whatever that means). The

documentation speaks for itself.

The film's rap sheet: How Kissinger engineered the collapse of the '68

Paris peace talks on the Vietnam War (in order to further his and candidate

Richard Nixon's ambitions); how he choreographed the overthrow of the

just-elected Salvador Allende (on 9/11/73), setting the stage for 17 years of

brutal, Augusto Pinochet dictatorship; how he helped execute the secret bombing

of Cambodia which - although the film is careful not to draw conclusions -

ultimately led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot and the slaughter of

millions, and how he approved Indonesia's use of U.S.-supplied weapons to

murder 100,000 East Timorese.

Kissinger doesn't appear, which is hardly surprising, considering that he's

been called as a witness in six different countries in cases against Pinochet

and has refused each demand. But his presence isn't necessary, not in the

interest of balance. If there's a question of objectivity - and, again, this

BBC-produced documentary jumps to no conclusions - it is rendered moot by

Kissinger's godlike status in the bleary history of late 20th-century

diplomacy. Haig offers a prime example of what the film is up against -

criticize Henry Kissinger? One might as well criticize Mother Teresa (which

Hitchens has quite deftly done, in his time). The man has been untouchable up

to now. There's no reason to think he won't remain so, especially with the Bush

administration trying its hardest to exempt him and others from ever answering

for their actions.

What we have is a movie that informs, fascinates and leaves one with an

ugly taste in the mouth. There's nothing intentionally sensationalistic about

"The Trials of Henry Kissinger," no overheated narration (actor Brian Cox does

a splendid job of staying in control) and there are only the most timid

juxtapositions of implicating footage. What we see in "Kissinger" is less

devastating than what we hear, and what we hear is truly stranger than fiction.

And much, much uglier than fiction ever dares to be.

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